An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Cabinteely, Co. Dublin
Roll number: 60092U
Date of inspection: 22 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clonkeen College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
First-year students are in mixed-ability classes. Students are then assigned to classes for second year, according to the results of the summer exams. This year, for the first time, teachers of Irish intend to leave second-year students in mixed-ability classes and they will not be separated according to ability in Irish until third year. This is a special effort, to try to determine which approach best suits the students. This arrangement will be continued if it is successful; if not, the teachers will revert to the old practice. Normally, there are two higher-level classes and one ordinary-level class in third year. There are two higher-level classes, or just one, in fifth year and sixth year, according to the ability of the students in the different years. It was reported that there is good flexibility regarding student access to the different levels.
There are five teachers involved in the teaching of Irish, but two of those five teachers teach just one class each. All the teachers have considerable experience of teaching the subject. The three teachers most heavily involved in teaching the classes are moved about among the year-groups and the different levels, to afford everybody the opportunity of teaching various levels and age-groups. This is good practice.
The provision for Irish on the school timetable is satisfactory, with four or five class-periods of Irish per week allocated to Junior Cycle classes and five class-periods per week to Senior Cycle classes. It was reported that Transition Year students have three or four class-periods of Irish per week. It is recommended that, if possible, Transition-Year students get four rather than three class-periods of Irish. It is difficult to provide an interesting, comprehensive programme of Irish for Transition Year classes within the limits of three periods per week.
Only nine of the school’s four hundred and ninety nine students have an exemption from Irish. Half of those who have an exemption are newcomer students.
There appeared to be a dearth of extra-curricular and cross-curricular activity for Irish in the school. No programme of events was organised, for example, as part of the celebration of ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’. It was reported that a weekend visit to the Gaeltacht is planned for this year’s Transition Year students; it is strongly recommended that these plans be implemented, if possible. It was also reported that work is done in third year on debating in Irish. The teachers of Irish are advised to discuss the drawing up of a programme of enjoyable, interesting events for outside the classroom, which would afford the students the opportunity of experiencing Irish as a living language. Some events might be organised for ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ as a start and that programme gradually expanded. It is recommended that proposals and suggestions be collected from both staff-members and students and that Transition Year classes be given some involvement in organising the events, as project work.
It was reported that there is no specific budget for buying resources for the teaching and learning of Irish, but that staff-members are welcome to submit requests for resources to the principal. It is suggested that the teachers make an inventory of all the resources available in the school at present and plan for the gradual expansion of the range of aids and resources available. A dedicated space has been provided for the teachers of Irish for storage of resources and current aids are being organised by degrees. It is intended that all resources will be available at this central location and the work done to date on organising current resources is commended.
Formal planning time is allocated to teachers of Irish once a month. Only the three main teachers of Irish are present at these meetings, however. It is understood that it is not feasible for all teachers of Irish to attend each meeting, however, if it is intended that teachers be assigned some Irish classes, they should have the opportunity of meeting regularly with the other teachers of Irish. The school management is commended for making planning-time available to the teachers of Irish.
No planning co-ordinator for the teaching and learning of Irish has been nominated from among the teachers of Irish. It was reported that this practice has not yet been introduced to the school. It is recommended that a teacher be nominated approximately every second year, to take responsibility for planning for the teaching and learning of the language in the school. This would give every teacher the opportunity to assume a leadership role in the development of planning for the subject in the school.
A certain amount of work has been done by the teachers of Irish on formulating a plan for the teaching and learning of the language in the school. The plan gives a brief account of the structure of the department of Irish, the allocation of classes, the timetabling of the subject and the targets for the teaching of Irish in the school. A short account is given of the books used with the various year-groups, as well as the topics to be covered. The work done to date on the plan is praiseworthy. It is necessary, however, to undertake further development of the plan, taking account of different methodologies, resources to be used with different classes, strategies to develop communication skills and strategies to cope with the reluctant learner. It is also necessary to plan for the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in teaching the language. Although cross-curricular work is mentioned in the plan, very little is happening in this area. It is recommended that work be done on this aspect of teaching the language to make Irish more relevant to students. It is strongly recommended that all documentation relating to the department of Irish, including the plan and the minutes of meetings, be written in Irish, with a summary in English, if necessary.
It is also recommended that the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in Transition Year be further developed. Transition Year affords teachers an opportunity to teach subjects in novel and creative ways. It is suggested that a plan be prepared for Transition Year that would give students an opportunity to tackle different ways of learning the language, with a special emphasis on developing communication skills.
Good comprehensive planning had been done for all the classes observed. Teachers distributed notes and work sheets to the students. Individual plans and schemes of work prepared by the teachers were provided for the majority of the classes observed.
The use of Irish as the normal language of management, teaching and communication was good, on the whole, in the classes observed. Real efforts were made to use the target language consistently in the classroom and only rarely did teachers resort to direct translation from Irish to English. In a couple of cases observed, however, English was spoken when there was no real need for it: all teachers of Irish are alerted to the need to avoid such strategies.
The relationship between teachers and students was seen to be very satisfactory. In every class observed, the teachers succeeded in getting students to apply themselves enthusiastically to their work, on a continuous basis. The students were consistently praised for their efforts and discipline was excellent.
The use of the overhead projector in the majority of the classes observed is commended. It was used to show pictures to illustrate a story, to present new vocabulary and phrases and to record points that arose during the class, for the students. Although the overhead projector was used to great effect, it seemed that very few other aids and resources were used in the classes. It is recommended that a wider range of resources be used, to make the teaching and learning of Irish more interesting and more stimulating for both students and teachers. In one case observed, where a poem was being presented to higher-level students, it would have greatly enhanced the work if appropriate passages of music were played, or pictures used to illustrate some of the images and themes in the poem effectively for the students. Methods such as these are invaluable, especially where the vocabulary and terminology of the poetry or prose is somewhat difficult to understand. It is also recommended that teachers make regular use of the Irish-language media. Excerpts from television programmes can be used to great effect in class and this methodology greatly enhances the students’ enjoyment and understanding of the subject matter of the lesson. That said, the textbook was judiciously used in class, simply as an aid rather than as the main teaching instrument, a really praiseworthy approach.
The students in general appeared to have a good grasp of grammar. In one higher-level class observed, the students knew all the rules of grammar and could apply them correctly. In other cases, great emphasis was placed on the correct forms of verbs and students were asked to compose sentences to show that they understood the various tenses, forms etc. and could use them accurately in different contexts. The teachers’ work in this respect is highly commended.
Repetition was used effectively in one class observed, to ensure that students pronounced new vocabulary accurately. This strategy was not used in all classes, however. Teachers are advised to correct inaccurate pronunciation consistently, without, as far as possible, upsetting the rhythm of the language or the students’ self-confidence. The teachers should also watch the accuracy of their own pronunciation and grammar.
The use of humour in a few classes observed is noted and commended, in so far as it enhanced the lessons and added to the students’ enjoyment of the classes. Another effective strategy observed in a few cases was the linking of the subject matter of the lesson to the students’ own lives. In one case, students were asked to relate ‘news’ of the weekend and, in other cases, students’ own experience of a particular situation was linked to the material being taught. This approach is commended because it adds to students’ interest in the subject and to the benefit they derive from the class. It is recommended that such an approach be adopted in all classes, with teachers making every effort to link the subject matter of the lesson in some way to what arouses students’ interest, within the school and outside.
Effective efforts were made in some classes observed to revise work already done, in order to link new material to work previously taught/learned. This ensured that students were adding to their vocabulary and to their understanding of the use of Irish in different contexts.
In the vast majority of the classes observed, the students made every effort to answer the teacher’s questions in Irish. However, it was felt that students were not afforded sufficient communicative opportunities in Irish in classes. It is vitally important that students become accustomed to using the language regularly. It is necessary to ensure that students have regular opportunities of making practical use of the Irish they learn in class. It is recommended that the teachers discuss among themselves how best to use a range of methodologies such as games, role-play, drama and pair-work. The use of pair-work in one class observed and of spontaneous communication in another, where students were encouraged to talk about any subjects of interest to them, was very effective.
House exams are set in the school at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home to parents after those exams. All first-years sit a common summer exam. It happens occasionally also that other year-groups taking Irish at the same level have common exams, if the teachers so wish. It is recommended that this good practice be put on a more formal and more organised basis, so that all students in the same year-group, taking the subject at the same level, if such groups exist, would sit common house exams.
It was reported that teachers organise small class-exams regularly also during the year, but that different forms of practice exist concerning these. For example, one Irish teacher sets a weekly class-exam, but the other teachers do not set exams as regularly as that. Again, teachers might well discuss this situation and decide which is the better approach. It was reported that no assessment of students’ communicative skills is undertaken until sixth year, when students do a ‘mock’ oral exam. It is strongly recommended that the teachers undertake a discussion on assessing all the language skills, including communication skills, from first year onwards. It is necessary to make students aware of the importance of oral skills right from the start. It is also important to promote and develop their self-confidence in speaking Irish from the outset.
It was evident from the copybooks examined that homework is set and corrected regularly. The copybooks contained a large amount of work, carefully corrected, with a mark or grade awarded, and praise for work well done. Comments were written both in Irish and in English. It is recommended that such comments be written in Irish only and that, where necessary, they could be explained to students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The work done to date on organising current resources for the teachers of Irish is commended.
· The support given to the teachers of Irish, in relation to providing time for monthly meetings, is commended.
· The work done on formulating a plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school is recognised and commended.
· Comprehensive planning had been done for all the classes observed.
· In general, the use of Irish as the language of management, communication and teaching in the classes observed was good.
· It was evident that there was a very good relationship between the students and teachers and all aspects of discipline were excellent.
· It was noted that students had a good knowledge of Irish grammar and that an appropriate amount of time was spent on using the correct forms of Irish verbs in different contexts.
· It was observed that in the Irish classes the textbook was used only as a supportive resource and this approach is commended.
· The effective use of the overhead projector in the classes observed is commended.
As a means of building on the strengths identified and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a programme of cross-curricular and extra-curricular activities be drawn up to support the teaching of Irish in the classrooms.
· It is recommended that a planning co-ordinator for the teaching and learning of Irish be nominated from among the teachers of Irish, every second year or so.
· It is recommended that the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish be developed and that a separate plan be devised for the teaching of Irish to Transition-Year students.
· It is recommended that a wider range of aids and resources be used for the teaching of Irish in the classroom and that the Irish-language communication media be regularly utilised.
· It is recommended that more opportunities for communication be created in the Irish lessons, to afford students the chance of applying their knowledge of Irish in realistic situations in class.
· It is recommended that teachers adopt the practice of setting common exams for appropriate year-groups and that students’ communication skills be assessed from first year on.
Post-evaluation meetings with the teachers of Irish and with the principal were organised at the conclusion of the evaluation, meetings at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.